Q & A with Richard Noble

Richard Noble's last speed record project ThrustSSC reached 763mph 13 years ago. Now he has a new mission: to reach 1000mph with the Bloodhound SSC

Q & A with Richard Noble

He visited the interview stage at AUTOSPORT International to share the full story of the Bloodhound project so far.

Q. 633mph...

Richard Noble: It seems awfully slow, doesn't it?

Q. You're here to promote this wonderful project - 1000mph.

RN: Mach 1.4, yep.

Q. That's just insane.

RN: No it isn't. We have got a big problem here in that we have a shortage of engineers, we need 387,000 engineers in this country over the next 10 years, and basically the conventional industries have been doing damn-all about it, and we were asked by the government to set up this programme to create the next generation of engineers.

And it's going very well now - at the moment we've got 3,300 schools on it. And there are two sponsoring universities, UWE and Swansea, and the engineering intake is up 37 and 45 per cent already. So it is having a huge effect.

Q. So we need 387,000 engineers in the next 10 years? Those are scary numbers.

RN: What's happened is, Britain kind of got it wrong and ended up gambling, and it ended up gambling on the city. And the city people are just not interested, because they simply move a piece of paper from one pocket to another and take 15 per cent. So we've got to get back there now, because it's the end of the gambling era. So that's what we're doing.

Q. So the land speed record in 1993 was 633mph, then in 1997 it went to 763mph. You only drove on the first occasion, Andy Green was the man on the second. He's the man again, isn't he?

RN: Absolutely, yes.

Q. Start at the beginning. How is it going to work? How do you build a car that will do 1000mph?

RN: The fundamental thing you need to start with is, why 1000mph? And basically in order to run this thing through all the schools - and I need to make this fascinating point that unlike normal motor racing where no data can be shared, we are sharing all the data, all the design data, all the performance data on the car, through all the schools. At the moment we've got 3000 schools on it, and eventually through the Intel sponsorship it is going to go to around four million schools worldwide.

So it becomes enormous. And the only way you can do this to really inspire people is to set out to do a project that's so advanced that people say, 'Bloody hell, that's incredible.' And it has been very difficult.

We've been through 10 designs of the car in order to get to this point, and there is nobody in the motor racing industry who can help us, because of course you guys are down at 200 miles an hour, and there's nobody in the aerospace industry who can help us because nobody builds low-level machines that travel at this sort of speed. To give you an idea, we had to restress the whole of the EJ200 engine simply because our car goes faster than the Eurofighter at 3000 feet.

The sequence is simply that you start off with a concept, and a design and a shape of the car, you work it all out and get the CP in the right place and the CG in the right place, package it all together, and then you put it through the CFD process, which is the aerodynamics on computer, and we've got a five-man team on that. And then you get a really rubbish result, so then you've got to bin it and start it all again.

So that's what we've been doing, and we've finally got there and it is very, very difficult. And we're dealing of course with supersonic airflows, supersonic airflows under the car, managing the supersonic airflows, and to give an idea, at once stage, at Mach 1.5 - that's half the speed of sound - we had a down-load of three tonnes, and then when we got up to Mach 1.4 we got eight tonnes of lift. So these are the sort of figures that you have to deal with. But we got there, we've got it under control, and we can do it.

Q. Those are numbers that you can barely compute, aren't they?

RN: Yes. Remember that the loads go up as a square root of speed until you reach supersonic performance, and then it goes up.

Q. But it's a wonderful manifestation that this tiny country is full of very clever people.

RN: You're absolutely right, and this industry here is what it's all about. Our fundamental problem now is that we let manufacturing slip right down to about 13 per cent of GDP, and we need to get it up to 50 or 60 per cent. It was a big, big mistake. So we need to get back into manufacturing and get this country stable again.

Q. When you stroll around a show like AUTOSPORT International that has a sporting and engineering feel about it, are you unearthing people that you would like to get involved?

RN: Absolutely. What we find so often is that a lot of very, very clever people end up getting sucked into these large, hierarchical organisations, and they are never really allowed to develop their skills and abilities. Our organisation is completely different - our company is a completely flat company; people are allowed to do whatever they like in our company. But of course they've got to communicate like hell, otherwise we get chaos.

But this attracts very, very bright people, because they're not being restricted in terms of what they can do. And of course we have to innovate all the way down the line. This project is known as an engineering adventure - we don't know whether we can do this. All the figures show that we can but there could be something out there at Mach 1.35 that makes it absolutely impossible.

Q. If you don't reach the magic target, will you carry on until you do?

RN: We'll have to see what happens. Obviously it's a bit of a gamble. The main objective of the company is to create a new generation of engineers, and certainly it is doing that now. If we don't get to 1000mph we'll have to work out why we didn't get to 1000mph, and see if we can get the support to follow on.

Q. There is a real honesty about the project, listening to what you're saying.

RN: Yes. This is very, very important. We are different to everything else. We are an organisation which always, always tells the truth. And it was the same with the Thrust SSC project. So on the website and everything, whenever there's a disaster and things go wrong, we always, always tell the truth, because people have got to believe that we are actually setting out to do what we are doing, and once we've done it, it's the truth and it has been done.

Q. Funding. This is not a cheap project by any stretch of the imagination...

RN: Well, in Formula 1 terms it is. I mean, the interesting thing about this is, I've got to make between now and next summer, £6.8 million. And we're doing very well - we're ahead of budget at the moment.

There are some fantastic deals coming - of course I can't tell you about them, but there are some amazing things happening, there really are. And another thing that is really interesting in comparison with Formula 1 is that we discovered that the Thrust SSC website was 35 times the size of a top Formula 1 team. And we believe that with Bloodhound now, we will be 300 times the size of a top Formula 1 team. It is an enormous global machine.

Q. What is the website?

RN: BloodhoundSSC.com.

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